Hairlessness: The 21st century feminine ideal

I remember from an early age I knew that women shaved their legs and armpits and men grew them long and those were the gender constructs I would eventually be placed into. As a child with hair on my legs, it was okay because I did not have to worry about being suitable for the male gaze yet. I remember swimming in the lake at a cottage we rented with my family and seeing my aunt in the lake with unshaven armpits and being disgusted. This is such an insignificant event but out of all my childhood memories, it sticks clear as day. Even at age eight I had been conditioned to hate the hair on a woman’s body and view it as untamed, gross and unfeminine. As I grew into adolescence, I was a late bloomer, I didn’t have hair under my armpits for a very long time but I did have hairy legs. I was one of the later ones to shave because I wasn’t really sure how to shave and I thought I could just hide my legs from my classmates and avoid being ridiculed. I still remember feeling the shame of having the hair there and pulling up my socks to cover any trace of my ignorance regarding “femininity”.  I eventually realized that life would be very stressful and closeting my legs would not work in the sweltering heat. I started waxing my legs and then was taught by my sister how to shave. Through reflecting on these feelings that have been with me almost my whole life and even noticing women my ages relationship to their body hair, I find myself wondering why something that is naturally on our bodies for warmth and protection has become something women spend hours laboriously trying to remove in order to achieve this unattainable ideal of a hairless neotenic woman. The media constantly shows women with no body hair, ads for shaving products, waxes and women in the public eye who try and excuse themselves from this construct are ostracized or punished in some way or another. A close friend of mine Petra Collins, who is a feminist artist and photographer posted a photo of herself on instagram of her bottom half in a bikini with pubic hair sticking out of her bikini bottoms. This image did not violate any of the rules and regulations of instagram, yet was reported and her instagram account was deleted. This sickens me, because although some may say it is just an instagram account, it is so much more than that. It is the same shame being forced on a friend of mine that I inherently felt at a young age, when all I should have been worrying about was discovering my passions. How can we love our bodies and love ourselves, when a site that is supposed to be a place to share beautiful photos with friends and give artists a platform to display their photography is taking away a young woman’s freedom to display herself proudly, in her natural state. The feminine ideal that has been created is out of hand and is causing subconscious damage on women’s feelings towards their bodies. A completely hairless body is not attainable for any woman who has hit puberty and even if attained for a short amount of time the hair will grow back and with the growth re-implement the shame and disgust with ones body. I am not saying that a woman covered in body hair should be the ideal, I’m saying that the ideal should be the choice of the woman, hairless or not hairless, much like men with facial hair. Some women do really enjoy having smooth legs, I would be lying if I said I didn’t, but some women prefer to have hair and our constructs for “femininity” should honour both of those choices.  

 

Femininity and the hairless norm

I remember from an early age I knew that women shaved their legs and armpits and men grew them long and those were the gender constructs I would eventually be placed into. As a child with hair on my legs, it was okay because I did not have to worry about being suitable for the male gaze yet. I remember swimming in the lake at a cottage we rented with my family and seeing my aunt in the lake with unshaven armpits and being disgusted. This is such an insignificant event but out of all my childhood memories, it sticks clear as day. Even at age eight I had been conditioned to hate the hair on a woman’s body and view it as untamed, gross and unfeminine. As I grew into adolescence, I was a late bloomer, I didn’t have hair under my armpits for a very long time but I did have hairy legs. I was one of the later ones to shave because I wasn’t really sure how to shave and I thought I could just hide my legs from my classmates and avoid being ridiculed. I still remember feeling the shame of having the hair there and pulling up my socks to cover any trace of my ignorance regarding “femininity”.  I eventually realized that life would be very stressful and closeting my legs would not work in the sweltering heat. I started waxing my legs and then was taught by my sister how to shave. Through reflecting on these feelings that have been with me almost my whole life and even noticing women my ages relationship to their body hair, I find myself wondering why something that is naturally on our bodies for warmth and protection has become something women spend hours laboriously trying to remove in order to achieve this unattainable ideal of a hairless neotenic woman. The media constantly shows women with no body hair, ads for shaving products, waxes and women in the public eye who try and excuse themselves from this construct are ostracized or punished in some way or another. A close friend of mine Petra Collins, who is a feminist artist and photographer posted a photo of herself on instagram of her bottom half in a bikini with pubic hair sticking out of her bikini bottoms. This image did not violate any of the rules and regulations of instagram, yet was reported and her instagram account was deleted. This sickens me, because although some may say it is just an instagram account, it is so much more than that. It is the same shame being forced on a friend of mine that I inherently felt at a young age, when all I should have been worrying about was discovering my passions. How can we love our bodies and love ourselves, when a site that is supposed to be a place to share beautiful photos with friends and give artists a platform to display their photography is taking away a young woman’s freedom to display herself proudly, in her natural state. The feminine ideal that has been created is out of hand and is causing subconscious damage on women’s feelings towards their bodies. A completely hairless body is not attainable for any woman who has hit puberty and even if attained for a short amount of time the hair will grow back and with the growth re-implement the shame and disgust with ones body. I am not saying that a woman covered in body hair should be the ideal, I’m saying that the ideal should be the choice of the woman, hairless or not hairless, much like men with facial hair. Some women do really enjoy having smooth legs, I would be lying if I said I didn’t, but some women prefer to have hair and our constructs for “femininity” should honour both of those choices.